Focus On

Expert to lecture Manitoba lawyers on ‘practice portability’

Tuesday, June 23, 2020 @ 12:42 PM | By Terry Davidson

Lawyers turning to the latest technology to create reliable electronic case filing systems will be a key to having a “flexible office” when working remotely during the COVID-19 health crisis and beyond, says an expert set to lecture on the subject.

Barron Henley, a tech expert with the Ohio-based Affinity Consulting Group, will speak to this for a June 24 webinar the Law Society of Manitoba is offering to its members as credit towards its Continuing Professional Development program.

Barron Henley, Affinity Consulting Group

Since mid-March, lawyers, like many other professionals, have been thrown into working remotely as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

On June 15, Manitoba’s government announced it will be extending its state of emergency to support ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic.

Henley spoke to The Lawyer’s Daily about some of the most significant technological adjustments lawyers are making in the name of “practice portability.”  

“Full practice portability requires, among other things, a complete electronic case filing system that lawyers can rely upon, which is remotely accessible, and in which the lawyers are confident they’ll be able to find what they need under pressure, such as when they’re at court or in a meeting,” Henley said. “In my experience, the majority of law offices still aren’t there. For example, there’s a generation of lawyers that stereotypically like to touch and read paper. The last thing they want to do is review something on a computer screen. However, there are a lot of surprising technologies that have proven to be helpful for people like that.”

As far as the software available, Henley pointed to the option of using Microsoft Word’s “Draw” ribbon, which he said would appeal to those whose style it is to make marks and notes on documents.

He also pointed to the adopting of an electronic “search utility” — Copernic Desktop Search or X1 Search, for example — to make it easier to search files, even in cases, he said, where “you can’t remember the client’s name or what you may have called the file.”

Another key is to have a “good electronic way of storing e-mails for archival purposes,” he said.

As for hardware, Henley suggests using small desktop scanners instead of copiers, dual or triple monitors so that users “can see multiple things without printing any of them” and monitors “that rotate to portrait rather than landscape so that documents can be more easily reviewed [and] marked up on-screen.”

Law firms, he said, should also adopt a shareable database of client and case information.

“For many law offices, there’s no central, shareable database of client/case information. Today, there are some really great options for web-based case management and accounting. They are integrated systems providing everything you need in one program, and they’re accessible from anywhere. ... There’s nothing to buy up front and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection.”

Another valuable piece of technology, he said, “would be the creation of intelligent templates that allow lawyers to quickly and accurately produce complex documents without anyone else’s assistance.”

“The easiest thing to improve in most law offices is the efficiency with which they generate complicated documents. Almost all lawyers would be shocked at what Microsoft Word is capable of in terms of automation; and you can always add a document assembly platform, such as HotDocs, Contract Express, TheFormTool or XpressDox, to the equation for even more power and speed.”

Having a “flexible office” is something that “would include a similar work environment at home as one has at the office,” he said.

“For example, I have a docking station, dual 27- [inch] monitors, a full-sized keyboard and mouse, and a high-def webcam at both my office and home,” he said. “So, when I plug my laptop into either location, my user’s experience is the same. I can also scan, fax and copy from either location. A flexible office would also include a way to protect confidential client data from family members.”

Law Society of Manitoba spokesperson Deirdre O’Reilly touched on why a lecture such as this is important.

“Programs like this one organized by our education department are an important part of our mandate to ensure the public is represented by a competent and ethical legal profession,” said O’Reilly. “Recent events have highlighted the importance of adopting new technology, which can offer lawyers and law firms many workplace efficiencies, but it also comes with some serious risks. Programs like this one will allow the profession to apply those lessons learned working remotely to their ongoing practice while providing them the knowledge and support to do so safely and securely.”

When asked about those aforementioned “serious risks,” O’Reilly said lawyers working remotely need to take precautions against any kind of cyberattack.

“A primary concern is cybersecurity and ransomware attacks. Working remotely businesses are more vulnerable to these types of attacks, and the impact of a breach can cause irreparable damage to a firm. Lawyers have a professional obligation to take the steps necessary to protect their client’s information.”

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